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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russia could soon encircle Ukrainian troops in Sievierodonetsk

Worshippers marked Orthodox Pentecost in St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday.

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Shashank Bengali

Russia could soon mount a push to completely encircle Sievierodonetsk, the governor of Luhansk, the region that includes the city, said Sunday, as President Vladimir Putin’s forces press their advantage in numbers and longer-range weapons to wrest momentum in the grinding war in eastern Ukraine.

The Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, said that Russia could cut off Sievierodonetsk within days. Defeat there would mark a bitter end for Ukraine to one of the most intense battles of the conflict, one that has shown Russia’s willingness to bombard cities relentlessly, while also exposing the limits of Kyiv’s ability to defend territory closer to the Russian border.

After more than 100 days of war and despite major setbacks, Russia’s forces now seem be making slow, methodical and bloody progress toward control of Donbas, the industrial heartland in eastern Ukraine that includes Luhansk and where Moscow-backed separatists have held chunks of territory since 2014. Ukrainian forces appear unable to fend off Russian artillery in the area and are suffering heavy casualties — at least 100 fatalities a day, officials have said.

Ukrainian leaders have redoubled their pleas to the United States and other Western allies for longer-range weapons. Moscow has also sought to target those supplies, and the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that its forces had launched a missile strike Saturday at a military warehouse in the western city of Chortkiv that destroyed American and European anti-tank and anti-missile systems.

As the war drags on, questions have increased about whether Ukraine’s allies will maintain their level of support in the face of mounting economic concerns at home. U.S. efforts to expand the alliance have stalled, as countries such as Brazil and India hesitate to join the campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

In other developments:

— The city of Lysychansk will likely soon be the focal point of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s east. Ukrainian forces have a rare advantage there, but only if supplies can get in.

— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was working to shore up backing for the country’s application to join the European Union. The bloc is discussing ways to integrate Ukraine, although officials have signaled that full membership could take years, if it comes at all.

— Ukrainian officials rejected President Joe Biden’s claim that Zelenskyy “didn’t want to hear” early warnings about a Russian invasion, arguing that Ukraine’s success in repelling Russian forces from Kyiv showed that it had been prepared to fight.

— McDonald’s restaurants reopened in Russia on Sunday but without the golden arches. After the U.S. fast-food giant pulled out this spring to protest the invasion of Ukraine, a Siberian oil mogul bought its 840 Russian stores.

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